Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 3rd day January 5, 2014

Well-prepared England well beaten

Andy Flower has been the best coach England have had but the environment he created has led to 5-0
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#PoliteEnquiries: Should Cook continue as captain?

Did clay grow tall for this? Was English cricket restructured, repackaged and refinanced for this? Was the result of the Schofield report following England's 5-0 thrashing in 2006-07 simply a smokescreen or diversionary tactic? Did the England team win a significant pay rise only weeks before this tour started for this?

There have been many bleak moments in the history of English cricket. There have been thrashings at the hands of the West Indies, defeats against Holland, Ireland, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and two previous Ashes whitewashes.

But this may be a new nadir. For a team who, not so long ago, talked of leaving a legacy in world cricket to be bowled out within 32 overs to seal a 5-0 defeat may just represent the bleakest moment of the lot. An England team that arrived in Australia with realistic hopes of clinching their fourth successive Ashes success will leave broken and humiliated. An England team that included Jonathan Trott, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann and Joe Root at the start of the series, finished without any of them. Not since 1984 has an England side lost five successive Tests by margins in excess of 100 runs or eight wickets.

There is some mitigation. Most pertinently, Australia's seam attack performed magnificently. Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle performed at a level that bears comparisons with some of the best bowling trios in history. Not only did they hardly deliver a poor spell between them, they went for long periods without delivering a poor ball. The pressure they built up on the England order would have cracked many teams.

England might have cause to reflect on their schedule, too. Several players arrived on this tour looking noticeably jaded and below their best. No batsman in world cricket has faced as many deliveries as Alastair Cook since the start of the 2010-11 Ashes; no bowling unit had bowled as much as James Anderson, Swann and Stuart Broad. England were exhausted before they began.

There are a couple of areas of encouragement, too. Broad bowled with pace, skill and stamina throughout - not least in Melbourne where he shrugged off a badly bruised foot - while Ben Stokes might be the allrounder England have been crying out for to balance their side.

But in general, this England regime has been extended every advantage. They have central contracts, academies, development tours, an army of support staff that might as well include a topiarist, vast investment and a control over the schedule, both home and away, of which previous management could only dream. If there have been issues with preparation or selection on this tour, it is because the England management made them. There can be no excuses.

There have certainly been mistakes. It was a mistake to bring three tall fast bowlers on tour - all of them endured a miserable trip - it was a mistake to drop Nick Compton before the previous Ashes series - England have not scored 400 since Compton last made a century for them - and it was a mistake to omit Graham Onions.

The selectors may well reflect on the inclusion of Jonny Bairstow as reserve wicketkeeper and the call-up of Scott Borthwick as replacement spin bowler, too. They could not have predicted the breakdown of Trott or the retirement of Swann but they should have been able to foresee Chris Tremlett's lack of pace, Steven Finn's struggles with rhythm and the lack of cover at the top of the order.

There were some obvious contrasts between the sides throughout the series. While Michael Clarke celebrated the "comfortable environment" in which his team operated, while their coach encouraged the team to enjoy their work, to relax and revel in the atmosphere of an Ashes series - the series that every member of their side should have dreamed of playing in since the moment they discovered the joys of this great game - the England team moped around as if they had been asked to defuse bombs while discovering a new energy source and a lasting peace in the Middle East.

It may be worth reflecting on how quickly things can change. Not so long ago, Australia were whitewashed in a series by India. They have recovered with largely the same group of players - the return to form of Johnson is clearly crucial - but with a change of coach. Simply by changing the coach, they changed the environment in which the team operated and, in time, the results followed. Gone were the homework assignments from Mickey Arthur and in came 'joke of the day' from Darren Lehmann. It sounds small, but it represents much.

There is an obvious lesson here for England. The current team have experienced too much work and not enough play. They have experienced too much stick and not enough carrot. They have experienced too much of one thing for too long. The batting coach has failed to coax runs from the side, the bowling coach has failed to develop some talented young bowlers and the fielding coach has failed to prevent some awful errors. None can reflect on a successful tour.

It is anticipated that Andy Flower will request the full backing of the ECB before taking any decisions over his future. It is anticipated he will request full control of the team, the support staff and a final say in selection. It is anticipated that he will ask for full power so that he can take full responsibility. It is probably the only way things can be.

But that is not so different to how things are now. Short of offering Flower an invisibility cloak and a license to kill, he has been extended every advantage the ECB can offer already. And it has culminated in a 5-0 defeat.

Flower has been, without much doubt, the best cricket coach England have had. But unless he can reinvent himself and find another method, it is hard to see how he can continue.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Chaffers on January 8, 2014, 18:33 GMT

    Not sure why everyone has a downer on Borthwick, he recovered rather well after a nervy start. Compare his 82/4 to Warne's figures in his first test...

  • ScottStevo on January 8, 2014, 17:48 GMT

    @StaalBurgher, I disagree, a fair reflection of that series is 5-0. Eng were completely dire and Aus steamrolled them. I agree the result isn't much indication of the relative strengths of the sides though and they're a lot closer than many Eng fans would like to admit prior to this series and Aus fans would now - much in the same way as their 3-0 home win didn't either. In this series, Aus hit Eng early doors with pace and venom and Eng were caught completely off guard. Eng couldn't up their game under the pressure, which only created more pressure - which again, they couldn't deal with.

  • dutchy on January 8, 2014, 2:32 GMT

    There was more to Australia rebounding than a new coach who let people tell jokes. They also picked an opening batsman with a decent first class average Rogers) over a trier (Cowan), they removed Shane Watson from a leadership position, they stopped dicking around with the batting order, they showed faith in Nathan Lyon instead of continually dropping him and they stopped picking bits and pieces all rounders like Maxwell and Henriques. England's one solace of this tour is meant to be selecting Ben Stokes the all rounder "England have been crying out for to balance their side" (they didn't have one when they were number one but anyway...) but he's a bits and pieces all rounder too. Picking him at six unbalances the side and England will keep losing.

  • StaalBurgher on January 7, 2014, 15:24 GMT

    I am really surprised England imploded. A fair result would've been an Ozzie win of 2-0 or 3-1 or something, but 5-0 is not a fair reflection of the relative team strengths.

    I am not surprised that England are weaker than they thought. They were barely no.1 for a short time and even then they were not head and shoulders stronger than anyone else yet their media carried on like they would rule for the next 5-10 years. Swann was one reason why they were strong and their batting, half of which was imported. Two areas of play that they are not traditionally strong in. Swann has been flagging for a while now due to his elbow, an objective person would've seen this coming. As for the batting... stop importing batsmen! That is why your next tier of batsmen are so far off the pace. It temporarily hid a decent but not exceptional area of your team. You are not developing enough talented youngsters, not the leftovers from soccer and rugby.

  • dummy4fb on January 7, 2014, 12:23 GMT

    Rigidity and lack of common sense led to England's downfall. It made no sense to promote Root to 3 and leaving Bell at 5. It made no sense to take Finn, rankin and Tremlett in the same 16-17. It made no sense to play Borthwick to bowl some lollypops.

  • Maroubra_Flyer on January 7, 2014, 7:40 GMT

    Great article. I saw England in a warm-up game against a chairman's XI in Sydney & they did look jaded and played like it. Boycott wrote a good article about letting the players think for themselves. Cook captained poorly because he looked like he had no Plan B when the wheels came off. Far too micro-managed, Flower must go, he wants more power when in fact he needs to step back. You can't manage mistakes out of the team by preparation & planning alone. People need to be allowed to take risks. One of the greatest innings we've ever seen was from Botham in Headingly in 1981. He turned a test around by just going for it. This England side are nowhere near this bad. They looked like Aus in April in India, tired, dispirited & joyless. Compton, Cook, Bell, Pietersen, Root, Stokes, Prior, Broad, Finn, Anderson & a spinner, on paper its a good side & will be in 2015. Both Ashes series too close together, never again ICC.

  • dummy4fb on January 7, 2014, 5:08 GMT

    England requires to replace the head coach, the batting coach, the bowling coaches, both in regard to pace and spin bowling and the captain who does not have a feel for captaincy and thinks firs to curtail runs, rather than take wickets, which in counterproductive to the England team. In conclusion, it is time to make the needed changes and start a new era in relation to English cricket.

  • fguy on January 6, 2014, 21:29 GMT

    sad thing for the english fans is that they dont even have other formats to soothe their pain. for them the "only" cricket is test cricket. if they fail in that, as they have here, there is no balm.

  • dummy4fb on January 6, 2014, 17:12 GMT

    There were a number of reasons for England's abysmal performance. The first and most important was obviously the Aussie preparation and the great performance by the Aussie bowlers. This was further compounded by the England's overconfidence. They obviously never expected the Aussies to turnaround in the way they did. Broad was the only player to have some kind of motivation, for obvious reasons. That could have been a springboard for a great effort by England. I feel that Cook and Flower should both be asked to take a break - a forced one, if necessary. Cook needs to take a holiday and clear up his thinking. Flower, on the other hand, seems to be in denial. If coaches have a shelf life then I feel Flower's time may be up, in spite of the remarkable success he has enjoyed. This England side will come back with time. In any case world cricket needs that, given its limited options. Australia's bowling may be good, but their batting will be shown up by SA. The false dawn will break...

  • CricketMaan on January 6, 2014, 16:13 GMT

    So changing Flower will solve all problems...nah..typical journo thinking. With Aus it was a different case. Arthur anyway wasn't doing a good job so a change was imminent, the homework episode hastened it. Flower has achieved a lot, especailly that recent win in India will haunt Indian fans for decades, so will the Ashes wins in the past. Yes England were pathetic, the selections were absurd at times, but to ask Flower to go and keep the likes of Gooch, Saker etc. will be foolish. Carberry is not your long term opener, so is not Root. Bell might be long term No.3 but how will be No.5 then? Stokes is seriously a good find but Swann has left a huge hole and neither of Monty or Tredwell is a long term solution.

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